With more wine brands promising low calories, sugar, and alcohol, it can be difficult to determine if these new options are really worth it. Here, our Wine Director, Brett Vankoski, breaks down the historical link between wine and health, what’s driving the rise in “Better for You” brands today, and how to best enjoy the wines you already know and love that are naturally lower in calories.
The history of wine + health
The connection between wine and health is as old as wine itself. The ancient Greeks believed that wine was essential for good health, but harmful if consumed until intoxication. Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, employed wine as an antiseptic, a dietary beverage, and prescribed wine for certain ailments. This view of wine as a restorer of health persisted through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment, oftentimes with good intentions and sometimes missguided ones. Wine was considered so essential to the healing of the sick that Louis XIV of France exempted Les Invalides, a veterans hospital in Paris, from paying taxes on wine. By the early 1700s this amounted to nearly 800,000 liters of wine per year for the hospital’s patients and staff. That’s a lot of vin médicinal!
These days, there are mixed messages about alcohol and health. Some are clear, like the dangers of driving while intoxicated and avoiding alcohol consumption while pregnant. Others are not, like the amount of consumption considered beneficial to one’s health. In the early 90s, 60 Minutes aired a segment claiming the French are generally healthier than Americans despite seemingly eating and drinking whatever they want. This phenomenon became known as the French Paradox, and it sparked an increase in consumption of wine — especially red — for the next two decades. Furthermore, the interest in wine as part of a healthy lifestyle was bolstered by the Mediterranean Diet, which encouraged people to eat a more plant-based diet, including moderate amounts of wine.
Then, in the early 2000s, people started to question the origins of their food and drink. Books like “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser exposed the impact of an industrial food economy on the environment and people’s health. Michael Pollan in the “Omnivore’s Dilemma” left us with the notion that not all food is created equal — for example, there are ways to grow a tomato that enhance its nutritional value and make it taste better, while also sustaining the soil and water supply — and that consumers should be aware of the way their food is produced. It wasn’t long before transparency of food production spread to include wine and other alcoholic beverages, and it became customary to inquire about the origins of what we consume. Were the grapes grown organically? Is there any residual or added sugar? Is the wine vegan and gluten-free? Oh, and how many calories are in a glass of wine anyway?
What consumers want today
Rob McMillan, author of Silicon Valley Bank’s annual “State of the US Wine Industry'' report, insightfully describes the difference between millennial consumers' attitude toward food choices compared to their parents. Baby boomers try to avoid foods that are bad for them, while millennials intentionally seek out foods that are only good for them. This trend has led to the emergence of new alcoholic beverage products specifically manufactured to remove alcohol post fermentation, thus reducing the number of calories.
Does this mean that the wines we’ve been drinking all along have been less healthy? If a 9% alcohol wine with 85 calories per 5 oz serving is supposedly better for you, does that mean that other wines are worse for you? The good news is probably not. Especially when it comes to wines that are naturally lower in calories. Let’s take a closer look at one example.
|“Better for You” Wine Brand (two 5 oz glasses)||170||3.3 g||9%||$16.00 (750 ml)|
90+ Cellars Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (two 5 oz glasses)
|198||2.7 g||12%||$12.00 (750 ml)|
The difference in calories between two 5 oz glasses of a “Better for You” wine brand and a traditional lower alcohol white wine like Muscadet Sèvre et Maine is just 28 calories. To put this in perspective, one medium-sized banana has a total of 105 calories. It’s difficult to comprehend refusing to eat a banana because it has too many calories. Consumers have to ask themselves if “Better for You” wines are really worth the premium price and the potential sacrifice of flavor.
Here are a few of our wines that are naturally lower in calories:
- Lot 170 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine - 99 calories
- Lot 50 Prosecco - 94 calories
- Lot 132 Provence Rosé - 100 calories
- Lot 42 Pinot Grigio - 109 calories
- Lot 158 Beaujolais - 115 calories
- Lot 53 Cabernet Sauvignon - 118 calories
There’s no doubt that “Better for You” wine brands want to capitalize on the mental math of health conscious consumers. But it’s important to consider whether it makes a difference. Most importantly, we should be aware that wine is more than a sum of its caloric content. Taste matters, and so does the history and tradition of making wine. Sacrificing enjoyment for a couple dozen calories detracts from the pleasure and adventure of the whole wine drinking experience. As Albert Einstein supposedly stated, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Explore our naturally lower in calorie wines, plus other great content like easy cocktails, HERE.